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Participation Schmarticipation

I'm starting to have second thoughts about the whole Web 2.0 thing, especially user-generated content and what Tim O'Reilly coined as "the architecture of participation." Why? Because I'm just tried of the sheer scale of the noise.

Perhaps Twitter has brought it on. I don't know. What I do know is that a day doesn't go by that I'm more and more jaded by Facebook feeds, Reddit, Twitter, Digg, Flickr, various message boards, hundreds or thousands of comments at the bottom of blog posts and news stories on sites like CNN and SignonSanDiego, New York Times, and on and on and on.

It's noise. Mostly noise. I care less and less. I don't want to read it. I find I am wasting vast amounts of time paying attention to meaninglessness, blather, and picayune peeves. Sure, go ahead and point out the irony of my blogging this to begin with. Whatever.

Those who know me know that I have been a pretty big believer in the notion of user-generated content, user participation, online community, open and public databases, etc. I founded Eventful.com, which originated as EVDB, the Events and Venues Data Base, inspired by CDDB and IMDB. Pure community-driven content.To which I now say, meh. I'm getting sick of community. The scale is just too damn big and I don't care anymore. The comments are mostly nonsense. The data provided by users is noisy, incomplete, and full of mistakes, and that is when it isn't outright spam or stupid jokers having fun gaming the system.

I think about starting a new startup company, and I wonder if I will go the "architecture of participation" route at all. Instead I want authoritativeness -- clarity -- reliability -- and quality. I want information that is good, accurate, and concise. I want just the information and nothing else.

As for the crowd, I wonder. I wonder. I no longer assume that I would involve the crowd, or reward users for participation, give them badges, let them develop reputations, etc. The scale is simply too vast. Four hundred million Facebook users? Forget it. I don't care, I don't want to care. If I do a new web service, I am not sure it will offer any notion of social networking or "community". The social graph is no longer interesting. What is interesting is the information graph. Screw social.

What is the information graph? The interconnectedness of information, facts, figures, stories, content. Maybe it's the semantic web, but that seems boring to me too at the moment. I'm intrigued by the information graph though. This is an area I'm thinking about.

If I do a new startup, sure, I'd want to have millions of users. But I don't care as much anymore if they contribute anything. I am not sure I'd facilitate their interactions amongst each other. I do like the idea of "following" far more than "friending" and I credit Twitter for that brilliant distinction.

One of the things I have always loved about my favorite newspapers and magazines is the finite number of voices. I learn to love certain reporters, writers, columnists, pundits, and ignore others. I seek out my few favorites -- they become the reason I subscribe to this or that publication. If they leave the publication, often my interest dwindles. (For instance, when Nick Hornby stopped writing for The Believer, I became far less interested in the magazine. But I was delighted to hear he's coming back starting in the next issue.) The huge, vast social networking sites have too many voices and not enough valuable content. A magazine or newspaper often has better and more reliable curation. Perhaps because the curators themselves are curated.

Perhaps the iPad has something to do with my shift in thinking. There is a lot that is compelling about the iPad, but participation? I'm not sure it is ideal for that. Consumption is what everyone is assuming is what the iPad is all about. I actually wonder. I wonder if the form factor of the iPad actually works for consumption. Everywhere I go I hear people telling me that well, they love their iPad but it flat-out fails when it comes to this and that activity that works great on the notebook computer. And if you dig a little you find out that what fails is participation, web 2.0 stuff. I keep waiting for a pure iconic Twitter service: no words. Just icons. 140 characters? Forget it. Maybe up to 20 icons per tweet, max. And they should be universally understandable so a user in China can post something that a user in America or Zimbabwe or Norway can understand perfectly. Of course, I am not sure this would be such a good thing culturally speaking, and I don't really relish the thought of building such a service. But I think if it doesn't exist yet, it will in time. It is inevitable with multitouch interfaces, seems to me.

So if the crowd has become useless, what to do instead? If participation is no longer the way to generate return visitors, what is? That is the big question I keep thinking about. That is what I'm wondering about and if I come up with an answer, it will no doubt be visible in my next startup.

UPDATE: Some of the comments indicate a misinterpretation of my post here. This is about how I feel about using the web of late, my gripes have to do with a growing dissatisfaction with the web services that I use day in and day out, primarily because they have become so huge that the noise has largely smothered out whatever signal there was. I'm thinking about future startup ideas these days, and the way I operate is that my startup ideas arise from what I like (and dislike) on the web, what I would rather see, what I wish for on the web. Hence, my growing dissatisfaction with sheer scale of community is influencing my thinking about what might be desirable as a service on the Net. None of this is new. People have been complaining about the scale problem for years, decades. I'm just wondering if there is a new model, a new paradigm, that keeps a service vibrant (and creates a sustainable business) even as it scales. Can there be success on the Net without all the accoutrements of Web 2.0? I used to think that Web 3.0 is the users really taking over. For a while I thought about facilitating that. Now I'm not so sure.

Thinking of posting a comment to this blog entry? That's nice. But please note: As of January 19. 2014, I no longer review comments. So they will never appear. So don't bother. If you want to comment on something you read here, go to twitter and write your comment there and just include "@brianstorms" in the tweet. I am no longer moderating the comments here; I just assume everything is spam and Intense Debate seems to have abandoned support for its product.

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